Bill to waive ethics fines advances
By JIM WALLS
March 2, 2015 — A Senate committee today endorsed a plan to absolve many Georgia candidates from having to pay fines for missing financial reporting deadlines.
The fines stemmed from the Legislature’s decision in 2010 to require candidates in city and county elections to report their campaign finances to the state, using an online filing system, rather than on paper at local courthouses and city halls.
Many candidates made the transition without a glitch, while others incurred fines starting at $125 for each late report that they blamed on confusion over the new requirements and weaknesses in the online system. Starting in 2014, city and county candidates were allowed to file disclosures locally once again.
Sen. Rick Jeffares’ bill, endorsed unanimously today by a Senate committee, would give candidates the “rebuttable presumption” that they filed their reports on time, or were stymied by problems with the state’s online system. On that basis, candidates could ask the state ethics commission to waive the penalties, refund their money and expunge their records.
An earlier version of Jeffares’ bill would have set a nearly impossible standard for the commission, which enforces Georgia’s campaign finance laws, if it wanted to deny a waiver. Language added today would give the commission a little more room to prove that a candidate’s failure to file disclosures on time should still be penalized.
A House subcommittee Tuesday will consider a similar bill filed by Rep. Barry Fleming.